Underwear teaches us Change is Good

“Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” – George Bernard Shaw

Now I have tried to make this blog article all high and mighty I have to disappoint and say it is just about how to get colonies for conventional hives (like Nationals and Langstroths) over to top bar hives (specifically kenyan top bar hives). This is definitely a perennial question on the forums I frequent and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I just copy and paste the last time I answered it now. I thought I could at least write a slightly more complete appreciation on the topic in a blog post.

Just to get it out of the way first and foremost if you are new to beekeeping the best way to get bees into a top bar hive is ……. COLLECT/CATCH A SWARM….. that’s better.

For those already beekeeping using conventional equipment and interested in giving kTBHs a go here are some options.

1) – Shook swarm into the topbar hive.
Transfer all flying bees, by substituting hive location, some or all comb bees and the queen to the top bar hive. At the end of spring is the ideal time for this as there is little or no brood. Doing this later in the year would require either ditching all the brood (poor bees) or maintaining the nuc to raise an emergency queen. Many conventional beekeepers will do this at the beginning of the year for a Bailey comb change to cycle out old comb.

2) – Comb Substitution.
The top bars you are using should be the same length as the frames so you insert empty bars between brood frames and they will draw them out. As the current frames are capped moved them to the outside so they are only filled with honey, perhaps behind a vertical queen excluder. When the frame is empty of brood remove it and add another top bar. You must take care not to let the natural comb extend beyond the dimensions of the topbar hive but a little trimming is fine.

3) – Chop and Crop.
An extreme and immediate approach and not to be attempted alone. You cut the frame from around the outside and trim the comb to the dimensions of the top bar hive using a follower board as a template and a bread knife to cut. You then screw a full top bar onto the frame top bar and put it in the hive. Many people have found this to be a “tearing of the sticking plaster” approach. Hard on the bees and the keeper but over and done with fairly quickly. At the right time of year they can recover fast and the “leftover” bits of comb can be put in the hive at one side so the bees can empty them.
Chop and Crop by Phil Chandler
American Version (the same but with power tools)

4) – Growing Into.
Growing the colony down or up through nadirring or supering. This works on the idea that you produce another box for the bees to expand into. This almost never works and you end up tying up equipment and messing the bees about for a long time.
growing down by Phil Chandler

5) – Converter Hive.
Build a hive that is half national half topbar. Allow them to grow horizontally into the topbar hive and when the queen crosses over to lay on the natural comb slot a queen excluder between the two. Remove the frames as the brood emerges. Once on the top bars transfer to top bar hive, placing the hive in the same location to allow flying to orientate more easily.

I am currently doing 5) and it is working well. I would say that you should try to get them on natural comb a bit first or giving them top bars this time of year will just give you drone comb-a-plenty. Below are pics of the converter hive I made using a national brood box. This is just a standard national brood box with some sloped sides inserted to the top bar profile. This takes 6X frames, and 6X 36mm top bars and a 5 mm spacer.


You could make your converter hive by joining a national and kTBH nuc together if you wish by cutting big enough holes in the side. Logistically I think this would be more difficult because of roofs etc but it is certainly possible.

A video of the converter hive after a few weeks in use.

The inserts I have made here were a quick and dirty job I am afraid. The bees inevitably build comb under the inserts because they aren’t solid or boxed off. I will at some point make a boxed off insert with floor. I don’t mind in this case as I will be using this as a “hybrid” hive where I can maintain bees on frames and top bars in case I need to rescue another colony in either (and vice versa).

Hope this helps those wanting to give kTBHs a try. Please do feedback on your experiences.

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3 Responses to Underwear teaches us Change is Good

  1. Erik says:

    You missed the “capture a swarm” approach. I was trying to figure out how to do just this without hacking away at conventional frames. Then one of my hives swarmed. I caught it in my new top bar hive on April 25 and it’s been going well ever since.

    I intentionally kept a hive to one box at the start of the season in an attempt to get queen cells, with the plan of moving them to the TBH along with some comb. I didn’t quite work this out, so was quite pleased that it ended well.

    I like the hybrid idea, though if I had to do it again I would probably just put some top bars in the brood nest of a conventional hive and let the bees build a few combs as a starter. These would easily trim a week or so later since there are no wires or sides. At least in theory….

  2. deweysanchez says:

    Thought I mentioned capturing a swarm right at the beginning! It is by far the best way of doing things.
    Yes you can insert bars into a brood nest that was one of the options I losted. I just find it more problematic than the converter and you have to keep on top of them.

  3. Julie says:

    Underwear and change! Sounds like a great start to a country hit! LOL!

    All great tips. Thanks for that run-down.

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